4 Tips For First-Generation College Students Navigating A Legal Internship

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By Shelby Mueller, ’23

First, I would like to congratulate many of you for coming this far and choosing a career in the legal profession! If you are reading this, you might be like me and wondering how you are supposed to navigate the legal system itself, let alone how you are expected to present yourself in a professional setting. 

Law school can be a daunting pursuit for anyone, but especially for those who do not have family or friends to discuss the experience with or bounce ideas off of. Of course, the people in my life are supportive of my law school journey and future legal career, but they do not have any shared experience of what I am going through. I hope these tips allow some of you to enter your legal internship with more confidence.

1. Network, Network, Network

Law is a social profession. Attorneys enjoy sharing their stories and their career paths. Every attorney I have met truly wants to help budding lawyers be the best advocates they can be. The lawyers you meet in your summer internship are sources of a wealth of knowledge and will likely be the best connections you can make in your career.

2. Ask Questions

When you are given an assignment, ask questions. If you do not completely understand the request, ask for clarification. If you do not understand some legalese a supervisor uses, ask what it means or look it up. Take a notepad with you everywhere you go!

3. Be Confident, Yet Humble

When you have finished your assignment and are going to discuss your research with the attorney, what do you do? Be confident. You likely know the law because you did thorough research. But what happens if you do not know the answer? Be honest. You may not know, but you can learn more and find the answer.

4. Dress for Success

Cliché, I know. As cheesy as it may sound, dressing the part boosts confidence by making you feel like you belong. 

About Me and Thank You to My Fellowship Donors

I want to share my gratitude to both the University at Buffalo School of Law Public Interest Fellowship Program, as well as the fellowship donors of the Professor Suzanne Tomkins ’92 Women, Children & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship Award, for making my first legal internship possible. Since the age of five, I have wanted to work in the legal field. By twelve, I narrowed my career choice to attorney and, from there, found my passion in prosecutorial work. My passion for justice and advocating for others has led me to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office this summer. I work mostly with the Special Victims and Domestic Violence Bureau, which is where I hope my legal career leads.

My summer has been filled with the best experiences of my life, and this internship would not have been possible if not for the donors. I have been able to assist in advocating for crime victims, their families, and the community in the pursuit of justice, and then share the experience with you. Thank you!

Name: Shelby Mueller, ’23

Name of Fellowship: Professor Suzanne Tomkins ’92 Women, Children & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship Award

Placement: Erie County District Attorney’s Office 

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: My summer has been filled with the best experiences of my life, and this internship would not have been possible if not for the donors.